Few sports have had as many ups and downs as trampolining, which will debut as an Olympic event at next year's Sydney Games. The first documented trampoline exhibition in the U.S. was given by circus star John Bill Ricketts in 1793 in Philadelphia. For his finale Ricketts flipped over five mounted horsemen and landed near the guest of honor, George Washington. Through much of the 20th century trampolining remained an American sensation, popularized in countless suburban backyards. U.S. athletes won every world title from 1964 through '70. In the '70s, however, injury-inspired lawsuits against trampoline manufacturers and owners proliferated, and, after the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended in '76 that trampolining be dropped from gymnastics competitions and phys-ed programs, the sport went into decline.
In less litigious Europe, meanwhile, trampolining has flourished. The favorites in the 12-man, 12-woman fields in Sydney—there will be no team event at the 2000 Games—will be from Russia, Belarus and France. At last year's world championships only one American, Jennifer Parilla (16th), placed among the top 25 men or women.
While only 50 of the 5,000 registered trampolinists in the U.S. compete at the elite level, there's hope of an American resurgence. In September, Parilla became the first U.S. competitor to qualify for the Sydney Olympics. "We're optimistic that the sport will take off here with the Gen-X crowd," says U.S. Gymnastics Federation president Bob Colarossi. Adds Bil Copp, former president of the United States Acro Gymnastics Federation, "Trampoline has overcome enormous obstacles. It was on the edge of dying." Olympic inclusion will no doubt help it rebound.